James Toney vs. Thomas Hearn's

By Ted Spoon, - The year is 1985 and Nat Fleicher's fires up his time-travel machine for the first time. Inexplicably playing havoc with the chronology of boxing, two men are matched. Devised solely for the purpose of creating fantasy fights, its juxtaposing has altered the horizon on the 160lbs division. Out of the electrical jolts and dust of time manipulation arrives a 24 year old motor-mouth called James 'Lights Out' Toney…

Over at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, WBC middleweight champion Thomas Hearn's drops himself into his leather seat, ridding his head of perspiration with a towel that drapes around his neck. He cuts a sharp figure within the fussy confines of the post-fight press-conference and hits every reporter that begins to rise with a stern leer..

A gratingly direct voice is heard amongst the noise:

“Tommy! Do you not think this latest defence was just a poor substitute for the fact Marvin Hagler has decided to chase Michael Spinks at light-heavyweight?”

(That these two men have never fought is the biggest gripe the media have with the hitman.)

Hearn's usually jiving voice retorts slowly and surely, “The fact Marvin left my division says more about his fear of facing me than me of facing him.”

“But in doing so Marvin is at least seeking credible opposition up at 175lbs whereas this latest 3rd round KO over a ballooned Julio Cesar Chavez can hardly be deemed noteworthy.” shoots back at the champion.

Hearn's sags a little and then begins, “Chavez came to fight; you can't take anything away from him. If he wants to step up and challenge the best at higher weights then that's his decision. I'm not the match-maker, I just do the punching.”

Hearn's trainer Manny Steward pipes up and declares, “We're not concerned with going up in weight just yet. Tommy's strong here at 160lbs. We've only had a couple of defences and are looking forward to tackling many opponents during a memorable reign. We feel this is the right time and place for Tommy to make his mark. We don't need Marvin.”

With Steward's speech many of the waiting questions lose their relevance and the room calms…

For a moment that is.

“The fight was a joke and sows tha' champ!” bellows from a far seat. Sitting there is none other than James 'Lights Out' Toney, who must be close to 190lbs, boldly decked out in a green, pin-striped suit. Cigar, naturally.

Attention comes all his way as he begins to roll.

“That's right baby, I'm ready to do the business. I ain't here to lay down like the long list of chumps Tommy's been fighting. Chavez looked like a damn egg with legs coming out of it. This isn't sumo…”

A reporter jumps in to interject, “But James surely your own weight is no small problem. Hearn's has said he is not moving up in weight!”

Toney locks on the reporter with a look of utter disinterest, dissolving him into silence to then re-address his amused audience.

“Yeah, so I haven't been far from cheese burgers, but this ain't nuthin' but baby fat, ain't nuthin' that's gonna cause a problem. Bring me the champ and I'll whoop him. I'm rated number three by WBC so I deserve my shot. In a few weeks I'll be ready and I'll fight as often as possible, an old school router baby.”

“Your man here is looking for a beating ” says a revitalized Hearn's “if he wants a fight at my weight then he don't need to ask twice!”

Under any other circumstances Toney's raucous spiel would not be taken seriously, but out of protection for Tommy's fragile image and not up for losing face, Steward agrees to a fight if James can, as he says, get his weight down to 160lbs.

Don King is there to christen the bout with a fully charged assault on the English language as Hearn's sits there brooding:

“There you have it ladies and gentlemen! A stupendous and tremendous showdown between two extraordinary athletes of indomitable wills. The fearsome 'Hitman' against the hustle and muscle of 'Lights out' Toney! Tune in to your television, switch on the radio, close your curtains and lock your doors, it's gonna be a majestic exhibition in warfare!”

And just like that team Hearn's file out of the room with their new assignment in mind while Toney happily asks a few more questions before making his exit.

A week of rest is allowed before the 5 weeks of training is underway. The wait for Hearn's has served little purpose. He hangs about his place of living in a subdued state. A week later Tommy eagerly awaits to start his engine for the daily grind. Manny Steward comes from one end of the Kronk gym all kitted up and greets his pupil.

'Bleep' goes the timer.

Hearn's moves around the pads with a learned caution and flashes his feinting mannerisms as he sees fit. With the speed of a veteran gun slinger he stabs the curved hand cushions of Manny's to prick everyone's ears with the resounding slapping noises. The jab is streamed out to a jittery rhythm, uneven, imagining the release to crash into Toney's pug nose every time. When the distance is made and the jab is sticking in comes the 3 shot cluster-bomb combinations. Manny is forced to seize up and squint at the impact. In between the furious exerts the champion skips ever so slightly away to reassess the task with dogged focus.

It's early morning and the Hitman is looking good.

“That's it, pump the jab, don't let Toney catch a breath” barks Steward, “keep moving and he'll go into his shell. Long punches; two's and three's.”

“Stay sharp, keep ring centre, don't be caught snoozing!”

Hearn's finishes his work out with plenty to spare. The sweat flies but he breathes through his nose. He fills the brief moments in between the exercises with shadow boxing where he is in his own world and the honed movements of his craft are neat and explosive.

Toney is a different cat.

James' does not have that pump-action style but a smoother, unsuspecting approach. He's in his element sparring today with light-heavyweight Antonio Tarver. He grunts as he redirects the punches off his sloping shoulders. “Ussh, come on baby, I got one for ya” and as he calls it a right hook comes out of his shell to nail Tarver. He is at home on the ropes and trickles in little episodes of short punches as Tarver works in vain to straighten him up. Every now and then a stray shot tags James and causes him to sarcastically drop his hands or gander outside the ring.

Just before their six rounds are up, Toney's doubles his hook to the body to drop Tarver. “Wooo baby, sleepy time!......….you ok boy?” Tarver gets up unscathed as Toney does his school-boy swagger to the corner to get a blast of water. He's still a good 15lbs overweight but never lets such things worry him. “15lbs, what's that? I'll shit that out.”

A couple of weeks later and James enters a room choc-full of fans, reporters and cameramen for the weigh-in. As challenger Toney is the first to the scales and tips them at an unsatisfactory 169lbs leaving him two hours to shed the excess 9lbs. “Ah fuck it, the scales are broke!” Despite his reasoning Toney is forced off the scene towards a skipping rope, the ring and a sauna to keep this a title fight.

WBC middleweight champion Thomas Hearn's looks all business as he comes into the room clothed head-to-toe in the Kronk gold. Manny Steward keenly examines him as he steps on the scales. Extending his long, slender arms into the air his chiseled body hits 160lbs dead.

An hour later Toney returns to hit 164lbs. “Man, you jokin' now”. He once again leaves the scene abruptly to spar a few more rounds. Back with ten minutes to spare he weighs in at 156lbs. Somehow he managed to lose 13lbs causing his seconds faces to turn wide-eyed in concern. “That's right baby, under, I'm under!”

Don King has the pair to face-off and then holds their hands up as pictures are feverishly taken. “Will it be light's out for the hitman or will the champion shut the mouth of the challenger?! Hearn's vs. Toney tomorrow night!”

The next stop is the ring where Hearn's is trying his best to burn a hole though Toney with his icy stare. Hearn's remains quite still, exemplifying seriousness in all its arresting nature. Toney creaks back his head, creating the bulldog like-creases on his neck to meet Hearn's burning eyes with an image of pure arrogance.

“You ready for this paper champ?!” shoots Toney after the instructions. Hearn's immediately squares right up to Toney as if he expected the snide remark. Manny Steward gets right in the middle of it as Toney bounces back to his corner while Hearn's lets his posture linger for a few seconds much to the crowd's pleasure.

“Don't let him hustle you, you're better than that. Remember what we went through in the gym. This is no different from another one of those sessions, now stay alert and get that jab going.” instructs Manny as he inserts the mouthpiece.

Toney has some vaseline applied to his heavy brow and the bell dings.

The champion does a quick march with his long legs and begins to bounce when he hits ring centre. Toney casually makes his way there for Hearn's to start flicking his 78” reach near his face. The spearing left of the hit-man forces Toney to go through some interesting lateral movements who throws a few body punches to try and keep him off balance.

Toney misses some telegraphed head shots in an opening round which Hearn's sweeps up with some, if nothing else, disruptive jabbing. “Just like we planned, he cannot take your movement. If he starts to get fresh with big shots drop the right hand.” says Manny in the corner.

Toney is as unphased as ever and welcomes the cold sponge over his bald head. Vasaline is again applied over his face and he struts from his corner to begin the second round. Hearn's comes out, all fiery, throwing the left regular. The cross-armed defence of Toney looks less fool-proof than usual as Hearn's shotgun movements keep him confined to that shell. When Toney sees it fit to retaliate his swings are easily spotted by Tommy. James decides to rush into the open guard of Hearn's and barge him into the ropes. Hearn's clinching forces referee Richard Steele to separate the pair.

Toney is again out of sorts and Hearn's takes the second with his outside game.

“He cannot handle you speed or your movement. Step up the pace this round.” Hearn's takes the advice and clamps down on the mouthpiece with a severe look on his face.

Toney teeters on the edge of his stool, looking up at the lights. He looks somewhat flustered as the vaseline is applied. When the bell goes for round three he stretches himself out.

Hearn's starts to mix in the right to the body. Toney is no better equipped to deal with this one and is backed up to the ropes where the champion gets lively. Hearn's throws his punches generously at Toney's head but he reads the blows well and causes a stream of misses. Hearn's comes back at the challenger with a swooping one-two but is again made to miss. “Right here boy!” exclaims Toney and Hearn's backs off. The round is Hearn's but Toney pulled some moves.

“It's our round again but don't follow him to the ropes, keep this fight out of reach in the centre.” Hearn's is warned before the start of the fourth. The next two rounds sees Hearn's repeat the first and second stanzas with a safe, long-range mastery over Toney. The size of the obstacle begins to dawn on the challenger.

The sixth round starts fast and furious; Toney throwing himself at Hearn's with homerun hooks. One of them cuffs the top of his head to which the champion retorts with cracking body punches before chasing him back to the ropes with both hands. Toney's mind is working very quickly, looking for the counter when Manny shouts back at Tommy “don't follow him to the ropes, stick the jab!” Hearn's hears him and gets back to boxing to ride out a round Toney deserves a share of.

A big gulp of air is taken in by Hearn's before the start of the seventh. He is way ahead but it is not getting any easier as Toney roars back into his space. The challenger wages a scrappy attack on Hearn's body. A punch goes low and Tommy hits the deck. “Get up you bitch, come on boy!” is directed at Hearn's as Steele gives Toney a good telling off. Hearn's uses 3 of the 5 recovery minutes and the crowd boos.

Back into action and Hearn's asserts himself brilliantly with the same fast and sharp kryptonite that has Toney chasing his tail. Tommy takes the round again but is a bit worse for wear.

“Don't let this son of a bitch hustle you! Keep your distance and if he hits you low you hit that mutha fucker low!” Steward begins to get a bit ticked off with Hearn's. “Now back to boxing, just like we did before.”

Toney's left eye bares a little swelling, but it's no problem. The Vaseline is slapped on again and he starts the eighth round with a bit more optimism. He meets Hearn's in the centre and times his body punches under a few lunges by the champion. Hearn's lifts the head of Toney with a jab then smashes his cheek bone with a right hand. It's a good shot, but Toney sells it to Hearn's, staggering over to the ropes. Steward is convinced as well and tells Hearn's to “go for it!”

The hit-mans combinations flow and have Toney on the defensive but, intoxicated in his quest for a knockout, Toney spots Hearn's right falling after a punch and leaps off the ropes with a huge left hook. The punch is not the cleanest but rattles the champions jaw and has the same effect on his body a split second later which crumbles to the floor.

“Stay down for nine!” yells Steward. Hearn's does so but is battered around the ring to fall again with 30 seconds to go in the round. He rises to clinch, clinch and clinch again. Steele deducts 1 point and Hearn's stumbles back to his corner.

The fight may have been considered as good as done but with a learned exhibition in survival, Tommy hides behind his jab for the next three to keep his head above water whilst dropping the rounds as Toney hunts him constantly.

“How you doing?” asks Manny. Hearn's nods his head with a slightly worried look. “When he gets wild grab a hold of his arms and don't let go. We're still ahead, don't get stupid.”

The last round comes up and they touch gloves. “Mine now bitch” utters Toney. “I got one for ya" replies Hearn's. Toney goes all in, kamikaze in every effort. The smart money looks to belong to a late round stoppage for James, yet amazingly, Hearn's fights back just as hard. His snaking left hand and cluster-bomb combinations bounce off Toney's head as they had Manny's pads. The power of the punches startles James who is again beaten into a shell as the crowd applauds graciously.

A couple of high shots criss-cross Hearn's legs. It looks desperate but again he lunges back into the danger zone, committing to every big punch. Through a climatic cheer he makes it through the late rallies of Toney and puts his signature on the round.

Both finish on their feet.

Toney tuts to himself; scrunching his moody face up that little bit more as the ring fills up with nobodies to leech off the atmosphere. Hearn's is tired but wears a big smile as he punches the air a few times. The cards are read out and Hearn's retains his title by way of three rounds on two cards and two on the other. The sudden loss of weight on Toney's behalf is discussed following the result but gets phased out for the event was too grand to bare such a scar.

Don King powers his way through the bodies, pocket sized flags in hand, and heads towards both men. Commandeering the scope of a camera screen he blurs out, “Ha Ha! Two fine specimens put on a spectacular for the ages. So nice they'll have to do it twice! Yes! A rematch for the history books to find out who is the true cham-pi-ooown!”

King's words conclude the festivities and both teams leave the arena to meet their respective destinies.

Nat Fleischer is wired the news of the big bout as he tinkers with a few features on his prized device. Unleashed back from the 18th century, Jack Broughton questions the ethics of these time-altering activities. Fleischer permits the London Prize Rules to exist within the law and all is forgotten. A potential new clash bubbles inside his scholar mind…whose it gonna be?

Article posted on 06.06.2010

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